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RIT faces suit over book of film critic's essays

Rochester Business Journal
January 31, 2017

Rochester Institute of Technology’s scholarly publishing arm has landed the university in a copyright kerfuffle over rights to film and drama critic Stanley Kauffmann’s essays. 

Highly regarded among film buffs, Kauffmann was a prolific critic who published until he was 93 and died in 2013 at 97. He is seen by cinephiles as “one of the leading and most knowledgeable film critics in the United States and probably the world,” said John Blanpied, a founder and former owner of the Little Theatre.  

Before joining the New Republic in the late 1950s, where except for an eight-month stint with the New York Times in the 1960s, he spent 55 years, Kauffmann showed perspicacity as a literary editor, acquiring Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic “Fahrenheit 451” for one publisher and Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer” for another.

The copyright dispute centers on “The Millennial Critic: Stanley Kauffmann on Film,” an anthology of Kauffmann’s critical essays published by RIT Press in 2015. 

The problem, according to Kauffmann’s estate, which sued RIT over the book last year, is that the compiler of the anthology, Robert Cardullo, a onetime student of Kauffmann’s, never had permission to republish any of Kauffmann’s copyrighted works. 

Hewing to a policy of withholding comment on pending litigation, RIT would not comment on the legal action, university spokeswoman Ellen Rosen said.

The RIT imprint distributed only 17 of the anthology’s 200-copy print run, quickly withdrew the publication and made efforts to retrieve those volumes after Kauffmann’s estate objected, RIT Press business manager Laura DiPonzio Heise stated in a court filing. 

Amazon.com currently lists one paperback copy of the anthology available for $80. 

“It is in my experience common for people who frequently get unsolicited, free review copies of books to resell them through various on-line book sellers that operate through Amazon,” Heise stated in the court filing.

Asked why the case is still in court despite RIT’s withdrawal of the offending volume and a high likelihood that any damages the estate might win would be tiny, the Kauffmann estate’s attorney, Kenneth Norwick, a partner of Norwick, Schad & Goering in Manhattan, said the main reason is that when he asked for an apology from the school, “their general counsel told me to tell it to the judge.”  

A second reason that arose since the case’s initial filing, added Norwick, is that the court case could uncover the current whereabouts of Cardullo, whose alleged misappropriation of Kauffmann’s work neither began nor ended with the RIT Press book.

“The estate’s counsel has in the past six months or so been dealing with numerous other book publishers who also undertook to publish their own Cardullo books that also contained egregious infringements of the estate’s copyrights. Like RIT, each of those other publishers has since withdrawn its infringing books from sale,” Norwick wrote in a court filing. 

The estate first filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan last April. The following month RIT moved for the case’s dismissal, but as an alternative asked to move the case to a Rochester court. 

Noting that RIT’s lawyers had asked for dismissal on the assertion that the complaint was filed in the wrong district, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald declined to throw the case out but granted a venue change to Rochester, where it landed this week. 

According to the Kauffmann estate’s court papers, RIT initially protested that its scholarly imprint had relied on Cardullo’s firm assurances that he was authorized to republish Kauffmann’s critical essays, supplying a letter on law firm stationery attesting to that claim as proof.  

RIT should have recognized the letter as “a crude and obvious forgery,” the court complaint asserts, adding that if the allegedly forged letter itself did not raise a red flag, a “rudimentary, first-page-only Google search” of Cardullo’s name would have turned up “his history and reputation as a plagiarist.”  

Entered into evidence by the Kauffmann estate, that posting begins with an account of a film journal retracting an article by Cardullo, because it had “significant overlap” with a piece published earlier by another journal. It goes on to list Cardullo-authored articles pulled by four other journals “owing to issues of plagiarism and duplicate publication.” 

The court complaint also notes an apology printed by the Hudson Review in 2007, which then regularly published Cardullo’s film criticism. It reads:  

“It has been called to our attention that several recent film reviews by Bert Cardullo published by this magazine have been inappropriately similar to reviews by Stanley Kauffmann that appeared in the New Republic. When asked for an explanation, Bert Cardullo apologized. We very much regret this occurrence and extend our own apologies to Stanley Kauffmann, to the New Republic and to our readers.”  

According to the Kauffmann estate’s court papers, RIT has raised the possibility of itself pursing Cardullo in court. 

In a court filing, Norwick disparaged RIT’s chances of success in such an endeavor, writing that since Cardullo has apparently “fallen off the face of the earth … can RIT represent to this Court that Cardullo is even alive at this point?”   

For 13 years ended in 2003, Cardullo was a theater and drama professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He later was on the faculty of Izmir University in Izmir, Turkey, which no longer lists him as a member of its teaching staff. 

While he sees a search for Cardullo as impractical, Norwick counts the case’s continuation in Rochester as a blessing of sorts. The Kauffmann estate would love to see Cardullo on the stand, he said, and while the case continues, the expense and trouble of locating Cardullo would fall on RIT.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail service@rbj.net.


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